Book Review: The Upward Spiral: Getting Lawyers from Daily Misery to Lifetime Wellbeing

Hyman, Harvey. The Upward Spiral: Getting Lawyers from Daily Misery to Lifetime Wellbeing. Piedmont, Cal.: Lawyers’ Wellbeing, Inc., 2010. 378p. $19.95.

As someone who has enjoyed and benefited from my share of self-help literature, I jumped at the chance to review The Upward Spiral: Getting Lawyers from Daily Misery to Lifetime Wellbeing. I was primed for the topic because I had recently completed a display and webpage for Pursuit of Happiness Week and had finished reading a slew of popular works on happiness during the process of reviewing another book on lawyer happiness. The Upward Spiral succeeds as a real guide for lawyers struggling with deep unhappiness, anxiety, depression, and alcohol or drug abuse to make sense of their situation and find hope for recovery. I wholeheartedly recommend it to lawyers and family members of lawyers, interested in learning how anger, stress, chemical dependence, anxiety and depression affect lawyers specifically, and finding guidance in the form of concrete steps towards leading a more balanced life. I recommend it to all law libraries, especially those that serve practicing lawyers.

In The Upward Spiral, Harvey Hyman, a long-time lawyer and sole practitioner, shares his personal struggles with stress, anger, alcohol problems, and depression that ultimately resulted in his hospitalization. Besides sharing his experiences, Hyman shares the knowledge learned from extensive reading of psychology, medical, and self-help literature, as well as the wisdom gained from his own recovery process. What sets this book apart from similar self-help books on happiness or well-being is Hyman’s perspective as a lawyer and sole practitioner.  The book is precisely tailored to lawyers in crisis and gives lawyers concrete steps to becoming healthier and happier.  Hyman’s advice is valuable because he knows what it is like to be an angry, stressed, unhappy lawyer and he knows what life changes are possible and reasonable given the legal profession’s requirements and expectations. The Upward Spiral fills a much needed gap in the existing literature which contains very few legal practitioner-authored works about how to deal with the serious problems of excessive stress, anger, alcoholism, anxiety, and depression affecting unhappy lawyers.

Part I, “Daily Misery of Law Practice,” examines why lawyers, in particular, are miserable, uncivil, angry, stressed, chemically dependent, depressed, or suicidal. Each chapter includes information for determining whether one has a problem with alcohol, anger, etc, and then discusses concrete steps involving behavior and attitude changes to address the issue. Part II on “How to Create Lifetime Wellbeing” details ways to develop relationships, improve communication and use practices like meditation and exercise to be well and to feel happier. Each chapter concludes with suggested readings that include works from positive psychology, medicine, self-help, and more.

The Upward Spiral has its flaws, but they are minor ones.  The book is subdivided into very small sections which I found distracting.  Also, the typesetting seemed amateurish, for lack of a better term.  Some of the later chapters on wellbeing make the mistake of trying to include everything under the sun: from vacation planning to the benefits of eating nuts to how to talk to a spouse on the phone to exercise motivation.  Otherwise, I enjoyed the book immensely.  Hyman writes in a very accessible style and the book is highly readable and refreshingly non-academic in tone.  Surprises like a quote from the Ben Stiller comedy Dodgeball (p. 52) and a description of law offices as so dull “[y]ou almost wish someone would fart just to lighten the atmosphere” (p. 170) made me laugh and helped paint Hyman as a person I’d want to take advice from.  The preface begins, “Your wellbeing really matters to me,” and throughout the book, you believe that Hyman does care.  Most importantly, his caring has produced a book good enough that it might actually be able to help someone.

Reviewed by Jennifer Duperon, Legal Information Librarian & Coordinator of Electronic Services at Boston University’s Pappas Law Library.

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